Jacques Barzun Dies at 104; Cultural Critic Saw the Sun Setting on the West





Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was 104.

His death was announced by Arthur Krystal, Barzun’s friend and the executor of his estate.

Mr. Barzun was a man of boundless curiosity, monumental productivity and manifold interests, encompassing both Berlioz and baseball. It was a life of the mind first cultivated more than a century ago in a childhood home outside Paris that became an avant-garde salon....

In his 2000 book, “From Dawn to Decadence,” he argued that one of the great virtues of the West was its character as a “mongrel civilization”: over the course of its development, it was resiliently constructed out of dozens of national cultures.

He traced periods of rise and fall in the Western saga, and contended that another fall was near — one that could cause “the liquidation of 500 years of civilization.” This time the decline would be caused not by scientism and absolutism, he maintained, but by an internal crisis in the civilization itself, which he believed had come to celebrate nihilism and rebellion.

And yet, in the cycles of history, he believed another renewal would come.

“It is only in the shadows,” he wrote, “when some fresh wave, truly original, truly creative, breaks upon the shore, that there will be a rediscovery of the West.”...

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Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012



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